House Condemned, Children in Limbo

House Condemned, Children in Limbo

Less than two years after the death of 3-year-old Katelynn Frazier led to calls for reform within Alexandria’s Department of Social Services, there are new allegations that, by ignoring reports of neglect and possible abuse, two children have been living in a home without regular adult supervision. In addition, the house in which they were living has been condemned as “uninhabitable due to unsanitary living conditions.”

The case came to the attention of the Alexandria Police Department on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Detective Adrian Miller, a youth officer, was summoned to a home on Clifford Avenue in the Del Ray area of the city to investigate a possible case of child abandonment.

According to Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the department, Detective Miller found two minor children and no adult. The children reportedly did not know where their mother had gone. Detective Miller called Child Protective Services and the Office of Code Enforcement because of the conditions she found inside the home.

“Neither of the toilets in the home was working,” said Michael Conners, the city's fire marshal. “They were filled with human feces, and there were human feces throughout the house. Clothes were piled around a water heater, creating a fire hazard. There were other piles of clothes throughout the house, stains on the carpeting and a stench that was horrible. The children clearly should not have been living there.”

Child Protective Services allowed the children to telephone their father, who arrived after he received the call. The children were released to his custody, despite the fact that his ex-wife has full legal custody through a divorce settlement that was finalized in late 2000.

“I have been trying to tell the people at Social Services about the house for more than a year,” the father said. “All they kept saying was that my ex-wife said that I was on drugs and that I should take care of cleaning up my own act. The social worker told me that she would warn the kids’ mother about the house but nothing ever changed. I even made a videotape about a year ago, but no one at Social Services was interested in that. I’ve tried to do what I can, but I knew that my kids weren’t safe in that place.”

Sources close to the case said that at least four reports were made to social services in the past two years about conditions in the home. On each occasion, a social worker went to the home and declared the reports to be "unfounded."

Reportedly, prior to visiting the home to investigate the allegations, social workers telephoned the mother to inform her that they were coming.

Conditions in the home apparently did not deteriorate overnight. "It's hard to say exactly how long it would have taken for the home to get to this point, but I would say it took months, if not years,"

Conners said.

ALSO ABOUT A YEAR AGO, the father said he began receiving calls from his children at all hours of the day and night. "The kids told me they didn't know where their mother was and didn't know how to reach her," he said. "I would go and pick them up and buy them food and clothes and keep them with me even though I wasn't supposed to. This summer their mother was gone for several weeks, and neither I or the kids knew where she was. The social workers said that she told them I had agreed to keep the kids. That isn't true."

The divorce was the culmination of a long separation that resulted in the children’s mother having full legal custody and the father having visitation rights.

“They’ve been separated for a long time, and for a while, their mother wouldn’t let anyone from our side of the family see the kids,” said Shirley Ware, the children's paternal aunt. “It is only in the last couple of years that the kids have begun to call us and come to visit us. The little boy is only 7 years old, and he cries and holds on to my brother every time my brother has to take them back to their mother.

"My brother certainly isn’t perfect – he’s been on drugs and hasn’t had a very stable life style. I think he’s finally trying to get it together, though. We didn’t think that Social Services should give the kids back to my brother, necessarily. We just thought that they shouldn’t leave them in that kind of environment. Foster care would have been better than that. At least they would have been safe.”

SCHOOL SOURCES said that they were aware of some of the problems involving the children and had contacted Social Services at various times over the years. “I know that they said my niece needed to be in counseling, but I don’t believe she is going regularly,” Ware said. “She is clearly not the same little girl that we all knew. She is angry and silent and has difficulty trusting anyone. After Katelynn Frazier I thought things had changed. We just want to see the children in a safe place.”

The children are currently living with their father. “I volunteered to take a drug test,” he said. “I haven’t gotten the results yet, but I know I am clean. I have tried everywhere to get help, and I thank God that the detective was called. Maybe now, someone will listen.”

The detective is continuing to investigate the case. The house remains closed by the city, and the Gazette was unable to verify the mother's whereabouts.

WHILE Meg O'Reagan, the director of the Department of Human Services, would not speak about this case specifically, she did comment on procedures in general. "The safety and security of Alexandria's children is the primary concern for us," she said. "We investigate about 60 homes each month to ensure the health and safety of all of the children in those homes.

"The condition of the home you are reporting about sounds absolutely appalling. City social workers often see deterioration in the homes we visit. We require the parent to correct declining conditions or risk removal of the children. If they cannot be corrected, we do not leave the children in hazardous or unsafe homes. A home that many of us may consider dirty and unkempt does not mean the home is unsafe for the child.

"For example, a dirty bathroom or kitchen may not be enough for us to take the child away from the family under the law. This difficult line is one we walk every day but the deciding factor is the safety of the children."

O'Reagan also said that it is not the policy of the agency to warn parents before investigating allegations of this type. "It is our policy to make unannounced visits," she said. "However, if we have difficulty gaining entrance to the home, we may resort to a phone call so that we can conduct our inspection."

O'Reagan encouraged members of the public to make reports to Child Protective Services when they see situations such as this. "Sometimes we can't remove a child as the result of the first call," she said. "Sometimes it takes two or three or four complaints. Situations can sometimes spiral downward for families and get out of control. We need to know when that begins to happen."